Performance Art: 1950-
The Modern Artist Cafe


by RW


The Birth of Performance Art

Peformance Art is a type of presentation that involves improvisation. The artist combines dance, music, drama, and sometimes expressive motion pictures. All performance art shares two elements: the various clashing parts of the performance function, and it must be performed live. Kaprow states that "Performance art also incorporated elements of shock, social criticism, or protest, and audience involvement."(82) Kaprow also stated that "Performance art has to be live, because a recorded piece, whether on film or audio tape, has no spontaneity."(86)

Characteristics of Performance Art

Performance art originated in the work of several avant-garde artists of the late 1950's. American artist and professor Allan Kaprow invented the term happenings to describe a single event, in which a group of people come together to carry out original instructions they had not seen before; the factors of discovery and surprise. Happenings later took place within a performance space instead of outdoors. To better define performance art, artists were asked for their feedback on what they perceived performance art to be.

The one with the best feedback was Mr. Jack Bowman. His famous quote on performance art is: "The Act is TRUTH. Nothing that was ever recorded is truth. Nothing that was ever said is truth. Only the ACT." Mr. Bowman, one of the featured artists from the internet site "PERFORMANCE ART DEFINED", as well as other local artists gave me their feedback on some characteristics of performance art, shown here:

  • A performance art piece is unprecedented.
  • It is difficult to censor since it has a good possibility of never being done before.
  • It is usually very current. This means that it is usually relevant of today because of the short time between conception and performance.
  • Performance art can involve the audience with taste, smell, and sounds not available with electronic media and not practical with conventional theater (This is due to the usually small audience).
  • Peformance art is the ultimate in creativity. Since it has so many possibilities at creativity, its essence tends to become creativity.
  • It occupies and environment with specific objects and actions for a specific amount of time.
  • The space-time restraints of performance art does not allow for elaborate sets/props and cost very little to produce.
  • Performance art can be produced in a coffeehouse setting.
  • Since the audiences tend to be small (approx. 30), the performers can give things to the audience, such as food or money.
  • Performance art is brief.

Transitions in Performance Art

By 1963, Live Art contributed to the incorporation of modern dance. Artists such as Alvin Ailey, successfully helped spawn modern dance into well known art. Lippard states that "During the 1970's, Performance Art came to describe more modest theatrical events, often inbolving one person who wrote, directed, and performed the piece."(12)

In the 60's, the beginning fo cross-discipline trends continued in these performances. In most cases, artists would use media previously unknown to them. Artists who trained in theater or writing would use motion picture images or choreographed movements. A performer tained in dance might use more language and vice versa. Performance art after 1975 reflected minimal art influences that focused on "extreme simplicity". Goldberg (102)

Conceptual Art viewed more into the process of art more important than when its finished.

Performance Art in the Present

Jones claims that "The most innovative and influential contributions ot perfomance art in the 1990's came from women who were trained in dance." Artists such as: Pina Bausch, who incorporates sound and setting into pompous spectacles and Elizabeth Streb who uses acrobatics mixed with dance. One influential artist that was not trained in dance, but in history and music, is Laurie Anderson. Her specific style of performance art combines music, video, speech, and electronics. Born in Chicago on June 5, 1947, she attended Barnard College, graduating with a bachelors in art history in 1969. In 1972, she earned a Masters in Fine Arts in sculpture from Columbia University. The Sean Kelly Gallery states that "throughout all of her studies, Anderson remained in the vicinity of Performance Art. Her multimedia projects involved not only music, but also film, mime, usual projections, dance, and mostly spoken and written languages (which is the main idea behind all of her work).

Like other performance artists, her influence still presently remains in new exciting projects each day. Performance Art is the one genre of art that will continue throughout present day and beyond.

Works Cited

Rich East High School * Park Forest, IL 60466

This page was created by RW for History and Thought of Western Man. Last revised 3/13/01.

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